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Opinions of Friday, 10 March 2017

Columnist: Kwesi Biney

Celebrating Women?

Rebecca Akufo-Addo, First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, First Lady

Kwesi Biney

‘Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the advancement of equality, development and peace’ (From the Beijing Declaration).

Last Wednesday, the 8th of March was the International Women’s Day, an occasion I believe is celebrated globally to appreciate the role of women in building the world, the challenges that confront them in their bid to raise their heads above the crowded path of men dominated life. I loved it and got glued to my TV set when I watched 2nd Lady, Mrs. Samira Bawumia hosting a programme with very distinguished career women in the persons of Charlotte Osei, Mona Quartey, Joyce Aryee and this brilliant lawyer whose name has escaped me. Pardon me my lady for missing out your name.

On other platforms, the 1st Lady Mrs. Rebecca Akufo Addo and another former 1st Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings were together on this issue of celebrating women. On yet another platform, the current Minister for Gender and Social Protection and the immediate past occupant of that position were together addressing concerns about women and how to help them out of their predicament.

Their views and experiences as women, their chosen professions and their contributions generally towards society are not just immense but inspiring to younger females in our society. The sad and unfortunate reality of our times is that many men in positions of trusts would want to take advantage of women before opportunities are offered them. Sexual harassments are some of the major problems confronting young professional women in their quest to find jobs. So intense is this social canker that it is foolishly believed that any woman who rises to a top position in public life got there via the route of sexual acquiescence. Are we saying that when we were in school, we never had female class mates who were academically better than many of the male students?

The world in the year 1995 recognized, at least officially, that women had been relegated to the background for a very long time. In most primitive and developing societies, women were treated as second class citizens in their societies, their efforts were not recognized and appreciated, women were treated as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the comfort of their male counterparts.

It is the global recognition of the oppressed women that the ‘Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration’, dubbed ‘Fourth Conference on Women’ took place in Beijing, China from September 4-15, 1995. Apart from the Beijing Declaration itself, the platform called for:

  • Action to protect and promote the human rights of women and the girl child as an integral part of universal human rights;

  • Action to eradicate the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women;

  • Action to remove the obstacles to women’s full participation in public life and decision-making, at all levels-including the family;

  • Action to eliminate all forms of violence against women;

  • Action to ensure equal access for girl children and women to education and health services;

  • Action to promote economic autonomy for women, and ensure their access to productive resources; and

  • Action to encourage an equitable sharing of family responsibilities.

The Beijing Declaration itself, among others had stated a determination to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity, acknowledging the voices of all women everywhere and taking note of diversity of women and their roles and circumstances, honouring the women who paved the way and inspired by the hope present in the world’s youth, recognizing that the status of women has advanced in some important respects in the past decade but that progress has been uneven, inequalities between women and men have persisted and major obstacles remain, with serious consequences for well-being of all people………..

Twenty-two years after the Beijing Conference, a lot in the world of the woman has happened in the global arena. In Ghana for example, political leaders have become conscious of the need to increase women participation in decision making at all levels.

Are we not proud to have the first female Chief Justice in Ghana? We should be proud to have the first female Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, an area ‘preserved’ for men, first female Chief of Staff, had a first female Vice Chancellor in a public university, don’t forget Mrs. Akua Kuenyehia, the legal brain who made Ghana proud in the international circles, the list is tall.

Today, I can say without any contradiction that there are always more girls than boys at the basic educational level in this country, an indication that we are offering and encouraging girls to have education. But as they progress towards the academic ladder, the number falls. Have we found out what the reasons are? The problems of women begin when they are children. I have always held the view that a girl’s educational situation is a major determinant factor in who her husband will be in future.

Speaking as a man, it is extremely difficult for a young man who himself did not have any education to make any proposal to a girl who has completed SHS, Training College, Nursing Training College etc. unless that relation defies all other social considerations but money. The hypothesis is that the higher educated women are, the better their chances are to have better husbands who will in turn respect and appreciate them.

Conversely, young girls without education or any vocation or training that empowers them economically to be independent, become easy prey to some irresponsible young men and male adults. That is why teenage pregnancy and other unplanned pregnancies are very common and rampant in poor communities in this country. There is no social protection for them, poverty stares them in the face on a daily basis, a situation exploited by men. Such exploitations further worsen their plight when indeed they had thought that a relationship with the opposite sex was going to give them some salvation.

An empowered woman of tomorrow, resourced academically and professionally to be independent enough to be able to contribute effectively to herself, children and society must come from an empowered girl of today. There are so many girls and young women out of schools, without opportunities to learn any kind of trade or vocation in preparation for the future. They are found in the most difficult, challenging and hazardous occupations to eke out existence on the streets, markets, on the farms where they are not the landlords. Their partners for co-habitation are found within the same environment they operate. They procreate and their children become worse off than the parents.

The question is what are we doing today for the girl child so she does not grow up to be an oppressed and abused woman in our society tomorrow? These children endangering their lives in ‘Traffic’ selling all manner of things instead of being in school, the young girls competing for space on the streets instead of learning some vocation, in the market places and other such difficult terrains of human endeavour, potters popularly referred to as kayayei are just living for today without knowing what tomorrow holds for them.

As I watched the upper class and middle class women on various platforms last Wednesday, I understood them and shared their aspirations. But were they sharing the aspirations of the most vulnerable females in our society? House maids are mostly found in the homes of the affluent women in our societies, and the maids are always from poor backgrounds. Sometimes they are horribly treated by the same women who are supposed to be speaking for the oppressed women in our societies. Some of the maids work 18 hours a day in the homes of their Madams.

As our women still think about women, the only practical support they could offer the woman of tomorrow is to help raise the poor girl child of today. If some of the tithes we pay to the churches can be directed to the care of a school girl at the basic level to meet some of her basic needs, she can progress on the educational ladder. Then she can be part of the celebration of women tomorrow.